Surfing The Clouds
The vivid-coloured variety of wildlife that’s on show in Costa Rica is a hypnotic treat that will have you reaching for your camera every time. Nowhere else in the world are so many species squeezed into such a tiny area – Costa Rica is about two-thirds the size of Scotland.
On this extraordinary tour you will explore Arenal’s perfectly shaped volcanic cone and the surrounding Jurassic jungle. Head to Monteverde for extraordinary swathes of cloud forest filled with brightly coloured birds, outrageously large insects and Blue Morpho butterflies flitting between orchid-festooned trees. Afterwards head to Manuel Antonio on the coast for tall, humid jungles hiding sloths, toucans and coatis and surrounded by dazzling white beaches and turquoise seas.
Geographical sensations, biological phenomena and blissful beaches, this tour has it all.
- Flights: Flights from UK to San Jose (SJO)
- Transport: Shared ‘van-boat-van’ transfer between La Fortuna and Monteverde, private mini-van transfers elsewhere
- Accommodation: 9 nights in hotels & eco-lodges
- Meals: Breakfasts where stated
- Trip Pack: Key family-friendly information about the country you are visiting with recommended activity links, places to eat and fun facts.
- Visit sulphuric pools and aqua lakes in Poas Volcano National Park
- Hike the trails around Arenal volcano and take a dip in the refreshing La Fortuna waterfall
- Search for wildlife at the Monteverde-Santa Elena cloud forest
- Explore white sandy beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park
- Enjoy optional zip-lining, white-water rafting, horse riding, canyoning, kayaking
- When can we go? All Year Round
- What type of tour is it? Private Family Tour with guided transfers
- Who is it suitable for? For wildlife enthusiasts (young & old), eco-warriors and active families with a penchant for adrenaline pursuits.
- What is the minimum age? We would recommend a minimum age of 6 years to take full advantage of the range of activities on this trip.
We publish ‘guideline prices’ for both the high and low season to give a reasonable estimate of what you might expect to pay per person based on a family of four (two adults, two children). To get an accurate price based on your estimated departure date and party size please contact us directly.
Guide Price: Dec to April - £1,415pp
Guide Price: May to Nov - £1,464pp
Arrive on your flight from the UK to San Jose and check in to your nearby accommodation. San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is filled with rich history and culture. It has a hip urban vibe and an array of restaurants and cafes that you won’t find anywhere else in the country. If you have time we would recommend visiting the National Museum. Otherwise, just relax, take a swim and catch up on some sleep.
Fun Facts:The favourite food of San Jose is Gallo Pinto. You’ll see practically every restaurant serving what is now the official national dish of Costa Rica. It’s a mixture of fried rice and black beans. Lots of working Ticos have little lunchboxes carrying a dish of Gallo Pinto inside.
After an early breakfast, you will be picked up by private mini-van and transported north to the 14,000 acres of various habitats and life zones which make up the Poas Volcano National Park. Rising up to 8,885 ft, Poas remains one of Costa Rica's most active volcanoes. A short walk from the visitors centre provides a jaw-dropping view of the mile wide crater with its sulphuric pool steaming like a fire-breathing dragon. From here you can follow a 30 minute hiking trail through the thick cloud forest to the eye-drenchingly lovely jade waters of Botos Lake. On the way keep an eye out for an Emerald Toucanet or a Resplendent Quetzal. What a cool sighting that would be!
Nearby, you have the option of visiting the magical La Paz Waterfall Gardens which contains a football field sized butterfly observatory, hummingbird gardens, frog habitat (with poisonous frogs – best not to lick them!), aviary, hiking trails, five stunning waterfalls and plentiful opportunities for close-ups with Costa Rican wildlife. If a shot of caffeine is required then a guided tour of a coffee plantation is also recommended.
From here drive past verdant green hills, banana plantations and bubbling streams further north to Arenal National Park. La Fortuna is a small tourist town lying in the shadow of the imposing Arenal Volcano and will be your base for the next three nights. Settle into your hotel or visit a nearby soda for some local cuisine.
Fun Facts: Costa Rican coffee has been recognized as among the world's finest for over 150 years but it is however, not native to Costa Rica. The aromatic product was introduced to the country when arabica seeds were brought over by the Spanish from Africa and the Middle East in 1808.
Optional Activities: Coffee plantation tour, La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Today is all about the mystical cone of Arenal (sounds like something from Lord of the Rings). This towering volcano frames the skyline with near perfect symmetry. The land around has lush, tropical vegetation and plays host to some unique hiking opportunities. Head to the nearby ‘Arenal 1968’ trail which has two family friendly trails that take you past rain forests, lava fields and volcanic boulders that were shot through the air when the volcano erupted. Once black and barren the jungle is slowly claiming back its territory. The top of the trail offers sublime views of the volcano and the lake. Get the kids to watch out for cool insects like leaf-cutter ants, gigantic blue bumble bees, and some crazy looking beetle’s! In the afternoon head to La Fortuna Waterfall where 200ft of raging crystalline water crashes down with a vengeance. Mother Nature at her finest! There are peaceful pools to relax in underneath the waterfall and schools of fish for the kids to view underwater. The water is rather refreshing though so be prepared! The 500 steps down and back should definitely get the body temperature back up to normal. As an optional activity you could also join a horse riding trail to the falls.
In the evening you can relax at your hotel or head to one of the nearby optional private hot springs. Most have pools of varying temperatures, slides for the kids and a swim-up bar for the adults. We guarantee you will be skipping around in giddy delight at such heavenly surroundings. If food is more your thing we would recommend a tour to a local rural family estate where you will learn to make typical Costa Rican dishes such as tortillas with a delicious dinner included.
Fun Facts: For over 400 years Arenal sat silent until July 29, 1968 when it exploded with such force that it blew up the entire western side of the mountain and created three craters. On any given day, you can still watch steam rise from the open crater and hear the low rumble of lava rocks tumbling down the mountainside.
Optional Activities: Horseback riding and BBQ, eco-thermal hot springs, Costa Rican cookery class and dinner on a local farm, Arenal observatory for breath-taking views.
Today is a free day for you to swing like tarzan from the treetops or do you best Bear Grylls impression rappelling down a waterfall. From La Fortuna you can go white-water rafting, white-water tubing, canyoning and kayaking or visit the hanging bridges. Animal lovers can volunteer at a nearby rehabilitation centre where they will be educated about the native wildlife and the measures in place to protect them before getting a chance to feed and clean the animals (thankfully this doesn’t involve any toilet duties!).
For those looking for a more in depth wildlife experience a day trip to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge comes highly recommended. Based near the border with Nicaragua, this swampy wildlife refuge houses thousands of water birds such as storks, roseate spoonbills and snakebirds. In the shallows live caimans and turtles whilst three-toed sloths and howler monkeys frequent the treetops. Keep an eye out for the Jesus Christ lizard, known for its ability to walk on water – you just couldn’t make it up!
Fun Facts: The ‘Fiestas del la Fortuna’ takes place in La Fortuna every February and includes bull running, craft fairs, horse shows, live music, discos and lots of local food.
Optional Activities: White-water rafting on the Balsa or Sarapiqui River, white-water tubing, canyoning, kayaking on Lake Arenal, visiting the hanging bridges, volunteer program at a local wildlife rehabilitation centre, boat trip to the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge
Today is an early start for your unique ‘jeep-boat-jeep’ transfer over the Costa Rican highlands to Monteverde (which means ‘Green Mountain’). Situated in the Tilarán Mountains, Monteverde with its verdant cloud forest and 1,000 endemic plant species is a mecca for eco-tourists. It certainly has all senses of the word “green” covered. This area boasts incredible hiking through the jungle and has many hanging bridges and zip lines for more adventurous types. Just don’t start swaying!
This afternoon visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The Reserve is at a very high altitude and you often be hiking in the clouds. Wow! The trees and plant life are unlike anywhere in Costa Rica. Thick moss and lichens cover every inch of bark and rock, and broad-leaf plants, vines, and bromeliads practically grow on top of one another. The shorter Sendero Camino trail is perfect for families and leads to the famous red hanging bridge. Afterwards we would recommend a visit to a local café to see some mesmerising hummingbirds. Enjoy a great pastry, coffee or cake whilst the nectar feeders attract a constant supply of hummingbirds hovering just inches from you. Cameras at the ready!
Spend the evening enjoying the eclectic cafes and restaurants of Santa Elena where you can try amazing taco’s followed by local coffee so good it’s like drinking liquid chocolate! For truly authentic Costa Rican cuisine we highly recommend the local sodas where you get to mingle with the locals and save a few £’s during the process.
Fun Facts: In the Monteverde and Santa Elena Reserves, trees grow up to 30-40 metres high. A secondary layer forms an elfin cloud forest where the legendary "golden toad" once lived. Sadly, the golden toad has not been spotted since 1987 and is believed to be extinct.
After a hearty breakfast, spend your morning immersing yourself in local culture. At the entrance to the Monteverde Reserve you will usually find glassblower Angel Castellanos Gómez sitting at his table, creating exquisite animals with his torch. He donates a portion of his sales to the conservation of local forests. A visit to the local cheese factory which sells delicious home-made ice cream should go down well with the kids. Visit a women's co-operative which makes fabrics, woodwork, ceramics and jewellery from sustainable indigenous materials and shares the stories of the women behind it. There is a café in the back that sells delicious “tipico” food, delivered at a “tipico” pace. Afterwards we recommend the ‘holy grail’ of tours – that of the chocolate maker. Watch a demonstration of the complete production process from harvesting cocoa beans to perfecting a hand-dipped truffle. Probably best not to visit on an empty stomach!
This afternoon is free for you to enjoy the more adventurous side of the surrounding area. If you and your family would like to try zip-lining then we would recommend this in Monteverde. Try the tarzan swing and numerous zip lines, from short to very long (over 2500ft), whilst whizzing through the cloud forest. We guarantee this will be one of highlights of your trip.
Fun Facts: Scientists studying the rainforests of Costa Rica needed a way to observe the forest without disturbing the animals. The scientific use of zip lines eventually spawned the successful industry of canopy tours.
Optional Activities: Zip-lining above the cloud forest, chocolate factory tour & tasting
Today, you leave the mountains behind and head to the coast (around a 4 hour transfer). You have the option of stopping mid-way for the crocodile safari on the Tarcoles River with a chance to see these magnificent ancient reptiles with sizes of more than 4 metres (gulp!). Further down the Pacific Coast is the resort town of Manuel Antonio which will be your base for the next three nights. Here you’ll find pristine beaches and picturesque coves and an air scented by thick jungle vegetation which crawls with ridiculous numbers of exotic wildlife. Offshore rocky islands dot the vast expanse of sapphire blue sea.
You can idle the rest of the day away swimming, surfing, parasailing, or just relaxing in the shade drinking a refreshing coconut water. Do I hear an audible sigh? Time to wind down and chill.
Fun Facts: Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but has amongst the highest number of visitors. In 2011, it was listed by Forbes as one of the world's 12 most beautiful national parks. It is closed every Monday and only 600 visitors are admitted each day.
Optional Activities: Optional Activities: Crocodile safari on the Tarcoles River, surf lesson or surf board hire, parasailing above the Manuel Antonio coastline
You can’t possibly come to Manuel Antonio without experiencing its famous national park. It boasts well maintained trails leading to spectacular viewpoints, crystal clear waterfalls and secluded beaches. You can chill on the sands under the shade of a palm tree or meander along the walking trails spotting two-toed sloths, camouflaged iguanas and bright purple crabs. There are even a few popular geocaches inside the park that are fun to find. We recommend an early start to beat the crowds. Keep one eye out for the White-Faced Capuchins on the beach as they will happily rummage through your bag looking for crisps or cookies. If your bag is small enough, they’ll just run off with the whole thing! The beach is a great place for a picnic as there are no places to buy food within the park.
The afternoon is free for you to take advantage of the ocean riches. You could enjoy a catamaran sailing trip from Quepos marina. Feel the sea breeze in your hair, anchor for a swim in the turquoise waters of the Marine Preserve, spot angelfish and parrotfish then head back on deck for a delicious BBQ dinner. Head back to land with a pod of dolphins by the starboard side. ‘A sailor's life, it is a merry life….’
Fun Facts: Sloths are slow but not necessarily lazy. Their diet consists almost entirely of leaves, which are not very nutrient-rich. They therefore need to conserve as much energy as possible. Sloths sleep more than half the day (up to 18 hours) and are most active at night. Lucky sloths!
Optional Activities: Tour of the Kids Saving the Rainforest Project, catamaran sailing trip to the Manuel Antonio Marine Preserve
If it is a Friday or Saturday then its Farmers Market Day! Take a stroll through the feria near the seawall in Quepos to see local farmers hocking mamon chino, tamarindo, guanabana, and other exotic fruits and veggies. Cheese connoisseurs should stop at the artisanal cheese stand with its amazing camembert! The majority of patrons will be locals doing there weekly shop, many of whom have travelled from the outlying rural villages. Experiences like these create unforgettable moments of your trip.
Your final afternoon can be spent lazing by the pool or on Playa Biesanz beach with its sheltered bay and calm waters. Alternatively you could hit the saddle for one last jaunt into the rainforest. Ride on well trained horses around a 300 acre hillside ranch which looks like something out of a children’s storybook. Venture into the rainforest, eat fresh fruit picked from trees, cross babbling brooks and take a dip in a natural, refreshing waterfall pool. Finish with a typical Costa Rican lunch. Absolute beginners are well catered for.
Spend your last evening enjoying freshly caught seafood or perhaps a spiny lobster which is a regional speciality. Reflect on all the amazing things you have experienced as a family over the last 9 days.
Fun Facts: Mamon chino are known as rambutan fruit in other parts of the world (which quite literally means ‘hairy’) and are closely related to the lychee. Tamarindo are curved shells whose red flesh inside is both sweet and sour. It is sometimes used to make juice, paste, syrup or jam. Guanabana are commonly used to make juices and ice cream and are similar in shape and size to a football!
Optional Activities: Horse riding through the rainforest, local cinema visit
Take an early morning private mini-van back over to the San Jose airport for your flight home. Leave this beautiful country with a heart full of memories (and possibly a stuffed toy sloth as well).
Wandering Tribe has travelled to all of the destinations that we feature and we like nothing better than talking about them. If you would like further information about these tours or a tailor-made quote then please contact us on 07392 742333. Alternatively you can fill in the contact form and we will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible.